Weather forecasters say severe weather is possible today, and thunderstorms could be around for much of the week.
The immediate Kansas City area is at what the National Weather Service calls a slight risk of damaging weather. The risk is higher just to the west. Specially, much of Kansas is looking at strong thunderstorms from mid-afternoon to early evening that could produce two-inch or larger hail, some tornadoes, high wind and flash flooding.
Today's biggest concern covers parts of three states: central Oklahoma, about half of Kansas – basically everything west of Topeka and east of Russell – and southern Nebraska. That's the area of “moderate” risk, and the Weather Service says confidence is high that some strong storms will occur there starting around 3 p.m. ahead of a dry line moving through the region. One of the risks is “strong tornadoes.”
A little closer to home – Topeka to the western edge of the metro area – the risk slips to “enhanced,” and for most of the metro area the risk is “slight,” which still means scattered thunderstorms are possible, and tornadoes and large hail cannot be ruled out. The chance of rain and thunderstorms tonight is 80 percent in Eastern Jackson County.
“All forms of severe weather are possible with this system, though primary hazards include large hail and damaging winds. ... A few tornadoes cannot be ruled out,” the Weather Service posted Monday. “Severe weather is also possible Wednesday afternoon ...”
Skies clear Wednesday evening, and thunderstorms could come Friday and Saturday.
The area is still short of rain. Through Sunday, the Weather Service had recorded 5.91 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1 at Kansas City International Airport, which is 1.78 inches below average. The area is three-fourths of an inch short of rain for April, usually among the area's wetter months.
Tornadoes occur throughout the year in the Midwest, but they are most heavily concentrated in April, May and June. So officials remind people to be prepared:
• Have a plan in mind for where you'll go when a tornado warning comes. Pick a basement, storm cellar or interior room on the lowest floor, away from windows. In general put as many walls as you can between yourself and the outdoors. Have the family practice the plan.
• Have some supplies in that space: a NOAA all-hazards radio (a weather radio), water and food, flashlights with fresh batteries, a first-aid kit, blankets and sleeping bags. That's a start. Fuller lists are available as places as redcross.org,
• When a watch is posted, keep the radio or TV on and monitor the situation. Also, the Weather Service, Red Cross and others have any number of apps for your smartphone. Try Red Cross tornado. Don't wait to hear the sirens go off. Those are designed to warn people who happen to be outdoors, and even a modest amount of noise from the television or other sources can cover them up.
• If driving, don't stop under an overpass. A fairly well-known video from years ago – living virtually forever on the Internet – shows a group doing that and riding out a bad storm, but emergency managers stress that those people were lucky and that an overpass actually poses more dangers because the structure itself tends to concentrate high wind.
It's also important to know one basic bit of weather terminology – the difference between a watch and a warning. A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for the formation of tornadoes. Watches tend to be posted over large areas – sometimes dozens counties in several states – and are posted for several hours.
A warning is more specific and immediate. It means a funnel cloud has been detected, usually radar picking up rotation in a cloud or a trainer weather spotter seeing a funnel or a wall cloud. Tornado warnings tend to be in far smaller areas than watches and don't last as long. These days, forecasters can generally lay out – minute by minute, location by location – where a storm capable of producing a tornado will hit.
The same watch/warning distinction also applies to thunderstorms and winter storms.